Blogs about Amsterdam

World Jewish Travel Official June 21, 2022

Amsterdam, Netherlands: An Artistic City with an Abundance of Jewish Culture

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled facades, legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. Jewish history is ingrained in the very cobblestones of Amsterdam, and communities of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim have called this city home for nearly five hundred years. The city has produced some of the most well known Jewish writers, artists, intellectuals, and politicians in the world. In addition to its rich history, Amsterdam also has a thriving Jewish cultural life from its restaurants to its museums.  Sephardi and Ashkenazi: The Jewish Cultural Communities of Amsterdam Jews arrived in Amsterdam at varying times in the city’s history. The first community that came were the Sephardim from Spain, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire. When Spain began to introduce laws expelling the Jews during the 13th century, the Netherlands became a safe haven for religious freedom. Ashkenazi communities made their way to Amsterdam during the 17th century. Again, these Jews were fleeing from the anti-Jewish measures of Western Europe. At first, they were entirely dependent on the Sephardi community gaining independence over time. Jews established their own cultural centers in the eastern part of the city in the Jodenbuurt, the Jewish Quarter. However, it wasn’t only Jews that lived in the quarter. One of the most famous Dutch artists in history, Rembrandt, had a house there and sketched his Jewish neighbors. [caption id="attachment_38253" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Statue of Rembrandt in Amsterdam[/caption] From Tradesmen to the Intellectual Elite Although they were prohibited from joining workers guilds in the Netherlands, Jews occupied a range of jobs and specializations. They held positions in the diamond and silk industries, worked as merchants and tradesmen, and even owned their own businesses. Despite this success, the community was still considered to be very poor. This, however, was a small price to pay for the freedom to practice Judaism. Culturally speaking, Amsterdam was the ideal place for the flourishing of Jewish language and culture. The dominant language of the community during the 18th and 19th centuries quickly became Yiddish. From that development came the Yiddish printing presses, which turned out more Yiddish literature than anywhere else in Europe. Intellectually speaking, by the 19th century, Jews had also moved their positions upwards, now able to become doctors and attend other prestigious universities and art schools. From Religious Freedom to Nazi Persecution Despite centuries of development, it didn’t take long for the vibrant world of Jewish Amsterdam to come crashing down in the 20th century. The Nazi party made its way to the Netherlands in 1940 and began to instill a range of Jewish limitations and deportations. Most Jews were deported either to Buchenwald or Mauthausen concentration camps. This was done with the help of the Dutch government and the corresponding Dutch Nazi party. Centuries of assimilation and interaction did not stop the Dutch people from turning in their Jewish neighbors. By the time the Canadian forces liberated the Netherlands 80% of Dutch Jewry had perished.   [caption id="attachment_38257" align="alignnone" width="1200"] The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam[/caption] Jewish Amsterdam Today Today the community has managed to rekindle the culture that was lost and commemorate the memory of Jews that died during the Holocaust. There are also a number of Jewish schools, radio stations, a local paper, and a number of kosher restaurants. Jewish culture from other countries also finds a distinct home in the Netherlands. Israelis in particular have found a significant cultural footing in the country through food. Restaurants such as Mana Mana and Machne Yehuda give the people of Amsterdam a taste of Jewish Mediterranean culture.    [caption id="attachment_38258" align="alignnone" width="1124"] Mana Mana restaurant in Amsterdam[/caption] Jewish Culture in the Quarter and Beyond Although the original Jewish quarter, Jodenbuurt, was mostly destroyed by the Nazis, the area now houses a range of historic Jewish buildings and museums. One of the most well known buildings is the “Snoga” or the Portuguese Synagogue. It serves as a remnant of 17th century Sephardi Dutch prosperity and  is considered to be one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. Just across the road from the Snoga is the Jewish Historical Museum which houses over 11,000 artifacts from varying periods of Jewish Dutch history. The museum is famous for its presentation of artifacts and most of the exhibits are designed to show the influence Dutch and Jewish culture had on each other.  [caption id="attachment_38254" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam[/caption] One of the biggest points of shared culture between the Netherlands and its Jewish population came from the diamond industry. One family that thrived in this enterprise was the Asscher family who built the Diamond Company House of Culture in 1907. In 1980 they were bestowed with a Royal title by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Although most of the Asscher family perished in the Holocaust, they are remembered for their contributions to the city.  Of course, one cannot talk about historic sites in Amsterdam without mentioning the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank, along with her family hid from Nazi persecution in a secret annex at the back of their 17th century canal house. This is one of the most visited sites in the city bringing to life the words captured in her diary.  In addition to its tradesmen, there are a number of notable Jewish figures that hailed from Amsterdam. Oftentimes the thriving of Jewish artisans followed the trends of Dutch artistic innovation. One such artist was Isaac Lazarus Israels. He made a name for himself during Amsterdam’s Impressionism movement in the late 19th century. From an early age Isaac displayed unparalleled talent and sold his first painting at the age of 16. Many of his works can be viewed at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands.  [caption id="attachment_38256" align="alignnone" width="2048"] Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam[/caption] Amsterdam: A Haven For World Jewish Culture From the very start Jewish Amsterdam has made a lasting name for itself, both in the Netherlands and the world at large. Although the community has seen untold persecution and harm, it has prospered more than most Jewish communities. This history is well preserved in a city that now celebrates its Jewish heritage and continues to welcome new Jewish immigrants with open arms.   

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World Jewish Travel Official February 6, 2022

Tips to Visit Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

A visit to Anne Frank House is usually at the top of people’s list when traveling to Amsterdam. The Anne Frank House Museum in central Amsterdam is a haunting yet beautiful house that is home to the diary that Anne wrote during her long days in hiding. For an authentic, subdued experience that is historical and eye-opening this tribute to the family and people who hid from the Nazis during the Second World War is not to be missed. About Anne Frank House Since its initial opening in 1960, The Anne Frank House has been attracting more than a million visitors each year. While the Anne Frank House Museum is very busy, the house is a moving space and one that is worth the visit. We visited Anne Frank House on our first visit to Amsterdam years ago and it has always stayed with us. Since it had been a while, we enlisted the help of KT Browne to update the details of how to enter, and what to expect during your visit to the Anne Frank House Museum. The annex, still visible today, was hidden from view by nearby houses during the war, which made it the perfect hiding place. The house itself was used by Otto Frank to run his workshop which he rented from the Pieron Family. The ground and first floor were used for his business and the rest was used as offices space and storage. When things became too dangerous, the Frank family used the second and third floors to go into hiding. Business continued as usual on the ground and first floors and the only access to their hiding place was through the bookcase. The unusual setup of the house, made it so that nobody took notice of what went on behind the bookcase in the secret annex of Prinsengracht 263. Tips For Visiting Anne Frank House Located right at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam on the Prinsengracht Canal, the inhabited rooms of the Anne Frank House are only 500 square feet in total. It consists of the main house and the hidden annex, which is where Anne Frank went into hiding and wrote her famous, beloved diary during World War II. There are numerous exhibition spaces throughout the museum that show various pages from her notebook, a wide array of artifacts, bookcases, and former living spaces. [caption id="attachment_32255" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Queues at Anne Frank Museum Entrance – Prinsengracht 263[/caption] Tickets to The Anne Frank House are only sold online and allocated for specific time slots—so be sure to show up on time! Because the house is so popular, crowds are common at the Anne Frank House Museum entrance, but they do seem to disappear once inside thanks to the time slots, along with a quiet and calm atmosphere. Purchase your tickets to Anne Frank House in advance here. If you cannot make your time and tickets are already booked, they do not reschedule or offer refunds, so make sure you will be going on the day you plan for. They used to allot 20% of tickets to be sold on the same day, but that option is no longer available. Once inside, there are no guided tours offered at Anne Frank House, but there is a free audio tour. It certainly deepens the experience, so we highly recommend it. Photography is not allowed inside the museum in order to preserve the quality of the artifacts. Leave your camera at home. Also, since there are many narrow stairwells, the house isn’t recommended for people with mobility issues. Introductory Program Before visiting Anne Frank House make sure to read the Diary of Anne Frank. It will give you a deeper understanding of the experience. You can purchase it here on Amazon for Kindle, audiobook, hardcover, or paperback. If you haven’t read the book, you can purchase a 30-minute introductory program that you can do before your visit. You will learn of the history of Anne Frank and about the persecution of Jews during the Second World War. It will give you a better understanding to help prepare you for your visit. Above all, visit The Anne Frank House with an open heart and mind; it’s a little slice of a very important part of history that we all would benefit from knowing more about. What To Expect In Anne Frank House [caption id="attachment_32256" align="alignnone" width="640"] Entrance to Secret Annex at Anne Frank House Museum[/caption] Visitors have the chance to wander through the museum’s many rooms, nooks, and crannies to get a real sense of Anne Frank’s experience. Through quotes, photos, film images, and a wide range of original items (including her beloved diary), Anne Frank is brought to life in an authentic yet respectful way. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. The house’s steep stairwells and original artifacts are incredibly moving, a walk through Anne Frank House pulls you back in time. Visitors can wander freely throughout Anne Frank House, so be sure to take as much in as you can. Also, don’t miss the hinged bookcase and the entrance to the secret annex behind it—it’s extraordinary. The main exhibition space is a thoughtful, rich tribute to the persecution and discrimination of Anne and thousands of Jews faced during the war. Much of the Anne Frank House museum is perfectly preserved, making the experience of visiting incredibly authentic, if not slightly haunting. About Anne Frank [caption id="attachment_32257" align="alignnone" width="898"] Anne Frank[/caption] Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl, who hid from the Nazis with her family and four other people in the “secret annex” of this 17th-century canal house during World War II. Anne remained hidden in the annex for two years and one month until the Nazi authorities raided the space, arrested her and others she was in hiding with. They deported them to concentration camps which ultimately led to her death where she died of Typhus Fever at the age of 15. Only Anne’s father Otto survived the concentration camps. It was recently discovered that Arnold van den Bergh, a Jewish figure in Amsterdam betrayed Anne Frank’s family to save his own. After 70 years of speculation, a team of investigators finally put the pieces of the puzzle together. You can read more details here. In 1947, Anne posthumously became world-famous because of the diary she wrote while in hiding for two years. Her diary along with hundreds of loose pages chronicled her life in poetic detail. The Diary of Anne Frank is a detailed account of daily events, along with her fears, hopes, and dreams, and has come to be loved by millions around the world not only because of the acute insight it offers about the nature of man but because it’s beautifully written. Read it now and order on Amazon If you are visiting Amsterdam, save these Anne Frank House tips to Pinterest for future travel planning. When visiting Amsterdam be sure to put Anne Frank House Museum at the top of your list. The pictures taped to the walls of Anne Frank’s bedroom and other exhibits offer a better understanding of an incredible person and the opportunity to reflect on the resilience of the human spirit at large. You may be interested in this tour to accompany your visit to Anne Frank House Museum. Jewish Cultural Quarter Tour includes an entrance to the Jewish Cultural Quarter that you can visit before or after your tour, and then you can join a 2-hour tour of this Anne Frank-themed walking tour. If you want to enter Anne Frank House you will need to purchase that ticket online separately in advance. Photography credits: Source Wikipedia: Own work by uploader |Author=Bungle Source Wikipedia By Massimo Catarinella – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 View the original article here, written by KT Browne.

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World Jewish Travel Official June 22, 2021

Holocaust Memorials in Berlin, Budapest, and Amsterdam

There are hundreds of Holocaust memorials around the world, including many in cities where we run walking tours. We sat down with scholars in Berlin, Budapest, and Amsterdam to learn more about some of the most significant Holocaust memorials around the world, and to get their insight into some of the trickier aspects of interpretation and memorialization. Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; photo by Alphamouse via Wikipedia Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin Once you’ve interacted with Berlin’s “Holocaust memorial”, as it’s commonly known, you won’t forget it. Conceived by American architect Peter Eisenman, the site is a Field of Stelae, a sprawling network of 2711 upright stone slabs–all grey, and of varying sizes and angles, in the heart of Berlin’s tourist district a few steps from the Brandenburg Gate. “The effect when walking through the monument, which descends into a valley in which the stelae are at their tallest, is quite staggering,” says Context docent Finn Ballard, one of the scholars who leads our Jewish Berlin tour. “The memorial engages on a visceral level, inciting feelings of bewilderment, entrapment, isolation, dizziness, claustrophobia.” Walking between the pillars and descending the overall depth of the monument, as visitors are encouraged to, it’s difficult not to feel awed and slightly uncomfortable. Though many have drawn comparisons with a cemetery, Eisenman’s intention was to keep the design purposefully abstract. The number of stelae is arbitrary, and the architect wanted to convey an ordered system that “has lost touch with human reason”; a labyrinth of uncertainty. Construction of the memorial began in 2000, but its history stretches back decades into the 20th century. An idea was first floated in the 1980s by a small group of German citizens who saw a need to acknowledge the lives and deaths of the six million Jewish people who were murdered by the Germans during the Holocaust. The campaign gathered momentum and in 1994, the government announced a competition. After a failed round of submissions and judgements that ultimately dissatisfied then chancellor Helmut Kohl, Eisenman’s design was selected as the winner of a second contest. From the government’s perspective, the monument was built “to honor the murdered victims, keep alive the memory of…inconceivable events in German history and admonish all future generations never again to violate human rights, to defend the democratic constitutional state at all times, to secure equality before the law for all people and to resist all forms of dictatorship and regimes based on violence” (Bundestag Resolution 1999, via Humanity in Action). Officially, the monument is called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and it is considered one of the most significant and high profile Holocaust memorials around the world. Some have criticized the passive language, which identifies the victims but not the perpetrators. Others have countered that that’s exactly the point–the answer is so obvious as to not require further explanation. “Eisenman’s work has courted much controversy,” explains Finn, “with some critiques of the monument focusing on the behaviour of visitors, for whom the artist has built a photogenic structure which is used by some as a playground.” Yet anyone who has spent time exploring Berlin’s layers of history will understand how the country, through its pockmarked capital, is doing an impressive job of being present with the uneasy weight of its past. “Although it’s a contentious sculpture, I find it a resounding success as a memorial – but to experience its full effect, it’s really necessary to visit the underground Information Center as well,” concludes Finn. This small space beneath the monument  is continually commented on by our clients and docents alike to be one of the most moving and excellent exhibitions in the city. The memorial is visited during our “Story of Berlin” Sightseeing Tour of Berlin and Nazi Berlin Tour, as well as our Jewish Berlin tour, and can be included as part of a custom private tour of Berlin. Dohany Street Synagogue Holocaust Memorial and Shoes on the Danube Bank in Budapest Budapest, with its thriving contemporary Jewish culture, has several Holocaust memorials. One was set up by a community itself, in a closed space and through mostly Jewish funding. The other was set up by non-Jewish Budapest intellectuals, in a public space via independent funding. One is dedicated to all victims of the Holocaust, the other for victims of a specific type of persecution by a specific group of people. One does not mention perpetrators, the other one specifically mentions those to be blamed. “I think both are very moving and very symbolic memorials,” says Context docent and Jewish expert Szonja Komoroczy, one of several scholars who lead our Jewish Quarter of Budapest tour. “Both are successful and respectable in their own form and with their own goals, and they complement each other extraordinarily.” Dohany Street Synagogue Holocaust Memorial, Budapest The Holocaust Memorial in the garden of the Great Synagogue on Dohany Street memorializes the Holocaust for the Jewish community. “For me, the most interesting elements are the spontaneous original tombstones from the graveyard in the synagogue garden, now replaced by uniform tombstones,” explains Szonja. The original tombstones are on the wall at the back of the garden. Soon after the liberation of the ghetto and the burial of the corpses here, people started to light memorial candles for their lost ones, then put up plaques and tombstones – mostly for those who died in the ghetto, but eventually also for anyone else who did not have a memorial elsewhere. “The Jewish Archive and Museum has been working on identifying who actually is buried there – and now they have their uniform tombstones, the spontaneous ones were kept and moved to the back of the garden, the side of the synagogue,” she adds. The weeping willow part of the memorial is probably its most famous. “It’s beautifully designed,” says Szonja, “with the two stone tablets ‘emptied out’, the branches of the willow showing an upside down menorah, the leaves of the willow crying in the wind, and the moving talmudic statement about the person who saves one life saving the entire world.” Shoes on the Danube Bank, Budapest; photo by Nikodem Nijaki via Wikipedia Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial that honors the Jews who were killed by fascist political militia in Budapest during World War II and is one of the more conceptual Holocaust memorials around the world. Conceived by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer, the rows of empty shoes–iron yet detailed and lifelike–were installed in 2005. The memorial pays tribute to the lives lost under Hungary’s Arrow Cross party, which shared many ideologies with Germany’s Nazis, including a particularly violent anti semitism, and took to the streets to shoot Jews during 1944 and 1945. “The shoes are very touching in their simplicity: This was the scene that Budapest residents woke up to on various locations along the Danube embarkment after a night of violence.” says Szonja. “It shows the void, that something is missing, something is terribly wrong. It is a beautiful initiative and effort of non-Jews, civilians, and locals trying to commemorate, to face, to understand a shameful part of their history, of the common history of the city. To show guilt as well as emptiness.” Explore the Dohany Street Synagogue on our Jewish Quarter tour or Hungarian Jewish Food Tour. The Shoes on the Danube Bank can be visited during our Introduction to Budapest Walking Tour and custom tour of Budapest. National Holocaust Memorial in Amsterdam Amsterdam’s National Holocaust Memorial is part of the city’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, which today also comprises the Portuguese Synagogue and Jewish Historical Museum and is the last o the Holocaust memorials around the world that we’ll look at. Until 1940, what is now the Hollandsche Schouwburg was a popular theater, but in 1941 the Nazis, who were then occupying the city, changed its name to the Joodsche Schouwburg– Jewish Theatre. Initially, it became the only theater Jews were allowed to act in or attend, but over the years it took on an even more sinister role. Tulips on the wall of the Holocaust memorial, Amsterdam; photo by Juliane H. via Wikipedia “It was also used as the holding centre for the Jews of Amsterdam prior to them being sent to the Westerbork Camp (the transit camp for Dutch Jews. From Westerbork people were sent to the concentration camps of Central and Eastern Europe),” explains Context docent and expert Michael Karabinos. After the war ended, authorities initially wanted to revive the Hollandsche Schouwburg to its former use as a people’s theater, but the attempt was met by strong protest. In 1947, the Hollandsche Schouwburg Committee took possession of the building and in 1962 the city council installed a monument in remembrance of the Jewish victims of Nazi terror. Later, in 1993 a memorial room was added, which included a list of the 6700 family names 104,000 Dutch Jews murdered in the war. “It’s a room meant for reflection and recollection,” explains Michael. The space is meant for survivors and relatives of those who perished, who have no grave. Explore Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter with Michael or another of our local experts during our Jewish Amsterdam tour. Original blog can be found here: https://blog.contexttravel.com/holocaust-memorials-around-the-world/

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World Jewish Travel Official July 11, 2021

A Tale of Two Amsterdams

The same spirit that made Amsterdam a center of Jewish life centuries ago makes it a delightful destination today. There is one connection between the Netherlands’ “coffee shops,” where cannabis is sold legally, and the remarkable Jewish community that used to exist in Amsterdam — the relaxed attitude of openness that dominates this beautiful city. The historian Simon Schama portrays Amsterdam, where Jews first settled in the 16th century, as an exceptional case of tolerance in an otherwise-hostile Christian Europe. “There was no Amsterdam Ghetto, no yellow badge, horned-hat or lock-up curfew behind gates,” he wrote. Read full blog by the Jewish Week  

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